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Nobel laureate Shimomura dies at 90; remembered for anti-nuke stance

In this file photo dated March 26, 2009, Nobel laureate Osamu Shimomura holds a test tube containing green fluorescent protein at Nagoya University in the city of Nagoya in central Japan. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO/NAGASAKI/SASEBO -- The 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry co-winner Osamu Shimomura died of natural causes on Oct. 19 in Nagasaki, in southern Japan, according to his alma mater Nagasaki University. He was 90.

The Marine biologist shared the prestigious prize with Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien of the United States, for his discovery and development of green fluorescent protein (GFP). The substance, discovered in 1962 during his study at Princeton University in the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar, has allowed researchers to visualize hitherto invisible processes, such as nerve cell development in the brain and the spread of cancer cells. His work made a substantial contribution to the advancement of science.

Shimomura, professor emeritus at Boston University, was known for his opposition to nuclear weapons, and even made a case for peace during his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Sweden in 2008.

His anti-nuclear weapons stance came from his experience as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Shimomura was a 16-year-old student working at a factory in the city of Isahaya, about 12 kilometers away from the hypocenter.

Born to a military officer father in the western Japanese city of Fukuchiyama, Kyoto Prefecture, in August 1928, Shimomura moved to Isahaya, his mother's birthplace.

Shimomura told the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview that the flash of light coming from the atomic bomb -- a plutonium implosion device dubbed "Fat Man" -- was "severe," and the blast that followed was "massive." His junior high school was turned into a makeshift evacuation center, and he saw many bodies as well as survivors covered in severe burns.

"I was appalled by the sight," Shimomura said then in a trembling voice. "I felt so sorry for them. I just don't want to remember."

One month after the atomic bombing that killed more than 70,000 people by the end of 1945, Shimomura ventured into the city of Nagasaki to transport rice. "Everything was charred black. The sight was terrible. War is terrible," recalled the Nobel laureate.

As a boy, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft and ship designer, but he failed to enter advanced schools for three years. He had been unable to concentrate on studies due mainly to forced labor during the war. He then entered the Nagasaki Medical Specialized School, now the pharmaceutical department of Nagasaki University, which happened to move near his home because the school building was wiped out by the bomb.

In his memorial speech at Stockholm University in Sweden for the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Shimomura showed a picture of Nagasaki devastated by the bomb, telling the audience that it was simple luck that he survived the attack, emphasizing the importance of peace.

In 2015, he attended a meeting in Nagasaki of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, in which scientists seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons gathered. Shimomura told of his experience to participating researchers and citizens from around the world.

"I want a world without war," he told them, "without nuclear weapons."

(Japanese original by Toshiyasu Kawachi, Medical Welfare News Department; Shotaro Asano, Nagasaki Bureau; Norikazu Chiba, Science & Environment News Department; and Hiroshi Watanuki, Sasebo Bureau)

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